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The Tools We Used


My father gripping the lawnmower's handle

on Saturdays to pummel twigs

was how we measured time.

His pulse beating in his fingers.

One way to show love

is walking back and forth in rows.


On its side

like a frail animal

the wheel-hoe blurs

covered in rain

near wilting summer squash.


I was never taught to rip wood in half with an axe

to build a fire

like my brother.


What I've come to know of love

is a tractor blade

set to cut just above the soil,

Papa shaving his neck

with a razor while camel-crickets

clicked in the basement.


When I followed you back to your land,

when I became a woman

who farms and wears ball-caps, you tucked

your knife

in my breast pocket.


Glue that holds thin strands

of my mother's quilt, her straight blonde hairs,

the photograph of her

when she was my age and married,

in my colored notebook.


You learned love is a hammer

beating a nail into bent pine.

The chop-saw and the board it slices.


Blue Ridge campfire nights.

Brother, do you remember

parents tied the trash to a branch

while we whittled sticks

in the souring moonlight?


Digging for carrots before the first hard snow,

hand-blue and mountain-sore,

I broad-forked a foot deep in cold soil.


Shelf of nails. Bent hooks. PVC. Impact

driver. Couplings. Hand saw. Sander.

Trencher. Nail gun. Tiller. Tractor. Disc.

Apple peeler. Seeder. Spreader. Collinear

hoe. Wheel-hoe. Stirrup hoe. Pruning

scissors. Buck knife. Map lines. Gloves.


I buried my pen in my father's warehouse.


When the New River spit our kayaks

from its rusty mouth that day,

the truck we called Big Blue

sunk its tires in the mud.

My uncle threw his back out from pushing.


I will dig out the scrawling roots like words

from the garden of my mind. I will use a trencher

if necessary.


Dear land,

I'm afraid the tractor

will unsteady

my love. That earth

will take his name

before I can.


Teach me how to pray

with the shovel in my hands.

Let my songs be the spoke-wheels

of Papa's beetle-bug. The axe what tears

through the noise in my head.


Let my hands be what God gave me

to write a letter to my brother in Harrisburg.

My body never to cross state lines

without a mouthful of clay dirt.

Let my hands be what God gave a woman like me

to touch a man like you.


Nicole Stockburger holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her unpublished manuscript, "Nowhere Beulah," was a finalist for the 2018 Center for Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Poetry program and a finalist for the 2018 Frontier Poetry Digital Chapbook Contest. Finalist for the 2017 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, she received the 2017 Kakalak Poetry Award. Her work recently appeared in The Louisville Review, Raleigh Review, The Chattahoochee Review, The Carolina Quarterly, and Indiana Review, among others. She lives outside of Mount Airy, NC, where she co-runs York Farm.

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